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Oakland Children's Hospital's Own Head Nurse Attacks Nurses Union

Oakland Children's Hospital is being plagued by a nurses strike as this is written. As a fan of Children's Hospital and its staff, the current situation does not reflect how hard they've worked to keep the establishment a going concern in a tough economy.

This blogger is not anti-union, but some unions need to be called out when they're not playing to work with administration, but against it. Such is the California Nurses Association.

Someone's paying attention. Namely, Nancy Shibata, RN, MSN, Chief Nursing Officer, Children’s Hospital Oakland, who sent this opinion piece to be ran in this space:

CNA Nurses Union Out of Touch With Current Economic Realities At Children's Hospital Oakland

By Nancy Shibata, RN, MSN

Chief Nursing Officer, Children’s Hospital Oakland

Ironically, the high cost of health insurance is a difficult problem for hospitals today. Over the past 5 years, health insurance benefit costs have risen for Children's by 80 percent or over $17 million dollars. That's a hefty increase for any institution, especially one that is the primary provider of children's healthcare services for Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

Children's Hospital Oakland is now facing a three-day strike by members of the California Nurses Association (CNA), the union that represents 700 of our nurses at our 190-bed hospital, over our health insurance benefit and pay proposals for the next three-year contract that we are attempting to negotiate with them.

Despite the fact that we are offering our nurses pay increases during the life of the contract and two healthcare plans that are 100-percent paid for by the hospital (and a third "premium" plan that they can chose with a monthly contribution), they are demanding higher pay and no benefit changes as part of a new three-year contract.

We value our nurses. They are vital and essential to our hospital and every patient. They provide the expertise and care, which combined with their personal skills and nurturing abilities, help make our young patients' experience a better one in every way.

The CNA union, which represents the nurses, unfortunately is out of step with both the economic realities facing Children's Hospital Oakland, but also with the broader economic climate nationally.

The three-day strike, which started today, is reflective of the CNA's inability to acknowledge and accept the changes that are occurring throughout the country related to wages and healthcare. A full-time nurse at Children’s earns, on average, $136,000 per year. A new graduate nurse on the day shift earns $95,000 per year. And this is without including what Children’s pays in addition for benefits.

At this time when our region, our nation and our people are struggling with the economic challenges of this difficult economy, this union is demanding no changes in its benefits (negotiated during a different economic climate) and increases in pay when they are not supported by the market or by Children’s ability to pay for them.

In our negotiations, Children's is proposing a wage freeze in 2010 with modest pay increases in the following years. We are asking the union to accept one health plan where members contribute a small percentage of the premium cost, while still offering two 100 percent employer-paid HMO and PPO health benefit plans for nurses and their families. The third, cost-share option, is a premium PPO that requires a pre-tax employee contribution ranging from $111 - $311 a month, depending on individual or family coverage.

A mix of employer-paid and contributory plans have been rolled out to other Hospital employees already. Currently, more than half of our employees have this type of healthcare benefit program and this bargaining session is our first opportunity to negotiate the change with the CNA.

The last CNA union contract, negotiated in better economic times in 2007, provided raises of 6% in 2007, 5% in 2008, and an additional 5% in 2009. These large increases are the basis for the Hospital's wage freeze proposal for the first year of the contract.

Earlier this year, Children's Hospital announced that it has lost more than $69 million over the past four years, of which $22 million was lost in 2009 alone. Since that time, the hospital has been restructuring its services, developing new business opportunities, and actively renegotiating private insurance and government reimbursements to cover patient care costs. As a not-for-profit regional pediatric medical center, our financial challenges stem from the poor economy, low reimbursement rates, increasing healthcare costs and a lack of public hospitals with pediatric inpatient beds.

Children's Hospital is on the road to financial stability, and we hope to reach it in 2012. We have made many changes to help secure our future and our ability to provide healthcare to the most vulnerable of patients, babies and children. Other industries have been crushed by the burden of labor contracts that were negotiated during prosperous times but could not be sustained during an economic downturn. We cannot let this happen to our vital hospital for children. We need the leadership of the CNA to step up and recognize that their members are highly valued, well-compensated and that 100-percent paid by employer healthcare benefits are a good package for everyone. Our children and our community deserve nothing less.
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